Al Iaquinta has won his last two fights in UFC, after losing a heart breaker in The Ultimate Fighting (TUF) 15 Finale to Michael Chiesa by submission. But he is far from a fighter who fails to perform under pressure, as "Choke Artist" is the new MMA TV project that the Serra Longo lightweight is going to be starring in as the character Judd Pulaski.
Written and directed by Sean Fitzgerald and produced by Stephen Koepfer, Choke Artist will begin filming this February. Iaquinta's character is a recent college graduate fighting in the underground scene in New York City and trying to rise to prominence in mixed martial arts (MMA), despite the sport being illegal in his home state.
Ahead of his fight against Kevin Lee at UFC 169 (preview here), Iaquinta was a guest on "Darce Side Radio," along with Fitzgerald, and he equated his new endeavor to his experiences of learning how to become a mixed martial artist.
"It's kind of like starting fighting all over again," Iaquinta said. "When I saw Stephen Koepfer's -- who I've trained with in the past -- posts on Twitter, that they were doing auditions, I was like I can do that, no problem. It's the same thing with MMA. When I started MMA, I was a wrestler. I was like I can do that no problem and I went in there and got my ass kicked, and then I was hooked. I had to learn it."
"I went to the audition and I knew the lines in and out, and then when I got in front of the people I kind of forgot. I was stuttering a little bit. I kind of realized that it's not as easy as it looks. It's going to be a lot of work I'm going to have to put in. It's something new, something fun. We will see how it goes. I am really excited about it."
A native New Yorker, Iaquinta knows all too well about the ongoing struggle to get MMA legal in New York State. He's never fought in underground smokers like his Choke Artist character, Pulaski, but he's had to deal with the reality of having to go outside of his hometown state to fight professionally. Being able to be part of a project that tackles a subject he has familiarity with, hits close to home.
"It's something that I'm very passionate about," he said. "Every year I'm hoping this thing gets legalized. I've had to travel so far to be able to fight and stuff. Being a part of this thing is really going to be cool. It's definitely going to have some heartfelt moments in it for me."
"It's a great way to get a message across and educate a lot of people in America about the fight to legalize MMA in New York," Fitzgerald said. "The story about Al coming up in New York... It's really eerie how similar it is to what I had expected for the main character and had planned for future seasons. I can learn from his stories of how he came up in New York."
The cost of production for the project was aided greatly by money raised on the Kickstarter website. The scenes that will be filmed will then have to be put into a three-minute sizzle reel to pitch to various networks in hopes of getting a home for the show.
"Al coming aboard is really a big break for us," Fitzgerald said. "Being able to pitch the project with a UFC star attached to it is huge. Even though it is scripted, it's always been a goal of mine to include as much of the actual MMA community in Choke Artist as possible."
According to Fitzgerald, former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin has read the script and has expressed some interest in the project. Adding Franklin to the mix with Iaquinta already on board, would certainly help to attract other MMA personalities to it.
Iaquinta had a lot of experience being in front of the cameras during his season on The Ultimate Fighter and he feels he can "build off" that experience for Choke Artist. He is excited about the idea of venturing out into something new.
"There's a bunch of great people working on this project and I'm really looking forward to learning from them and finding something new to work at," he said. "It's a bunch of great guys that know about martial arts and really have a passion for it and I think that's what's going to make this stand out from everything else that's out there."
The TUF alum said he has a "pretty flexible schedule as far as training goes" and that he's "confident that he can juggle his new journey as a thespian with all of his training responsibilities." Tonight he won't be studying any scripts, as he has to focus on Kevin Lee and trying to earn his third victory inside one of the UFC's toughest divisions in New Jersey, a state he knows very well, from rising through the ranks of the regional scene.
How is he feeling about his match-up against the 7-0 Lee?
"He's won all of his fights so far. He hasn't been beaten so I'm going to out there and try and welcome him to the UFC the right way and see what he's got," Iaquinta said confidently. "He's very athletic, has good boxing skills, good wrestling skills, but I don't think he has fought anybody near the caliber of people that I've fought. I'm just way too experienced and I think that's going to show in this fight for sure."
He is still young into his MMA career, but being around middleweight champion Chris Weidman and former welterweight champion Matt Serra has been a great influence on him. He said he "knows for sure" he too, will one day be a champion and right now he's just going to "keep working."
"Just looking up to those guys every day and seeing how hard they work and how it's paying off is really motivating for me. I know that I have the skills to do it and I'm just going to keep working until it comes."
For more on tonight's UFC 169 event including live results click here.